Guest: Thomas Massie
Since well before the current lockdowns, Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie has been raising an alarm about the monopolistic and over-regulated meat processing industry, which leaves our food supply vulnerable to unexpected disruptions.
It took the COVID-19 crisis to get his colleagues in the House of Representatives to take the issue seriously, but a bill to address looming meat shortages with a local, free-market solution is finally making headway with bipartisan support.
Urge your representative to vote for the PRIME Act, and listen to my full conversation with Congressman Massie on his new bill:
“Remember when the AAA killed 1 million hogs a day? Instead of hogs it’s men today. Plow the fourth one under.” – The Almanac Singers
During the Great Depression, the Agricultural Adjustment Agency — one of the forerunners to the USDA — paid farmers to euthanize and “plow under” millions of livestock to prevent a price drop. This was ostensibly to support farmers and balance supply and demand, but historians of the Depression view this one of the greatest policy errors of the time.
Today, we see the same senseless, wholesale killing of millions of perfectly healthy chickens and pigs. Cattle are next in line. This time, the livestock are being prevented from reaching the market by a bottleneck in the heavily-regulated, crony-controlled meat processing industry.
Since 1967, the Federal government has required all meat raised for “public consumption” to go through a small number of central facilities, which must be overseen by a full-time USDA inspector.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), a small-scale cattle farmer himself, has a plan to avert the looming shortage by simply allowing smaller state-regulated-and-inspected facilities — such as the ones he uses to process and sell his cows locally — to make up for the demand shortfall within each state. These Small-scale processors are still inspected regularly by the USDA, but are not large enough to warrant a full-time inspector. While the current regulation is justified in the name of consumer protection, in reality it smothers competition from smaller producers who can’t afford to comply with the high regulatory barriers — effectively creating an oligopoly.
The “cartelization” of Big Agricultural dates back to the Depression, when lobbyists and federal regulators formed an unholy alliance that gave rise to agencies like the AAA. Even local food production got swept up in the dragnet of New Deal-era laws under the guise of interstate commerce regulation. This continued with the 1967 passage of the Wholesome Meat Act, when there were still 10,000 slaughterhouses nationwide. Today there are less than 3,000 slaughterhouses — many of which are now closing due to COVID-19.
In this classic example of “regulatory capture,” the powerful meat lobby has authored inspection requirements to favor big firms, and limited small-scale processing plants to selling only to family and employees. Massie’s bill would expand these sales to the local community — exempting them from the federal requirements so long as sales remain within the state, hence the “intrastate meat exemption” in the fitting PRIME Act acronym.
Safety Concerns & Food Federalism
So far, the PRIME Act has gained support from both Democrats and Republicans. Small-scale production is often more environmentally friendly and safer for the consumer, since it depends on localized knowledge and trust within the community rather than bureaucracy and red tape.
Naturally, the powerful National Pork Producers Council opposes the bill, since it threatens to break up their monopoly once and for all.
While the old Rahm Emmanuel line about never letting a crisis go to waste has mostly been used to ram through unconstitutional laws that erode personal liberties, Massie’s bill flips this on its head and is using this time as an opportunity to restore “Food Federalism” — where regulation would come mainly from the states and the reputational checks and balances provided by the market.
Farmers who sell bad food won’t survive in a free market. Besides, they are still liable for injuring consumers under existing law, as Massie noted in a recent interview, explaining the PRIME Act to Liz Reitzig, founder of Real Food Consumer Coalition (RFCC).
The market’s built-in consumer protection is the natural extension of a decentralized federalist system, where states innovate new regulatory frameworks. Even the army of federal inspectors hasn’t been able to prevent tens of thousands of violations in the existing facilities. Outbreaks of food-borne illness like E. coli also become far more deadly when production is centralized.
Freedom for small, custom slaughterhouses is just a part of the necessary reform that President Trump promised when he spoke of returning power from Washington D.C. to the states, and ultimately to the People of those states.
As Elizabeth Nolan Brown reports, rumors that Trump is compelling the large plants to stay open despite employee illness have been exaggerated. However, Massie’s solution is vastly superior to the recent executive order declaring meat processing plants “critical infrastructure.”
Unfortunately, Massie’s stalwart defense of constitutionalist, limited government principles has hurt him politically in some ways. His recent invocation of Article I, Section 5, Clause 1 of the Constitution to convene Congress in person to pass an emergency coronavirus stimulus package earned him the title of a “third-rate grandstander” from the President (Massie jokes he is at least second-rate), and he is now being “primaried” by Republicans in Kentucky’s 4th district, where has has served since 2012.
Despite this, the Kentucky Congressman and leading member of the Republican Liberty Caucus is still seeking common ground with the Trump administration and doing more than his part to uphold the federalist balance of powers.
Help Massie’s Liberty Agenda and Keep a Voice for Liberty in Congress:
A genuine conservative and small-r republican, Massie is calling all Americans to contact their representatives and urge them to vote for the PRIME Act.
If we don’t seize the current opportunity, we may find ourselves hungering for fresh pork and beef as soon as this Summer or Fall. Further down the road, our children will hunger even more for the lost essential liberties we failed to protect against special interests and their cronies in Washington D.C.